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Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process Hardcover – March 25, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Beginning with the premise that "poets are among the most fearless of writers when it comes to self-revelation," poet and psychiatrist Berlin (How JFK Killed My Father) examines the ambiguous, age-old relationship between writing and madness by asking leading contemporary poets to discuss psychiatric treatment and their work. The result is a fascinating collection of 16 essays, as insightful as they are compulsively readable. Each is honest and sharply written, covering a range of issues (depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychosis, substance abuse or, in acutely deadpan Andrew Hudgins's case, "tics, twitches, allergies, tooth-grinding, acid reflux, migraines... and shingles") along with treatment methods, incorporating personal anecdotes and excerpts from poems and journals. Though they dwell in the darker corners of the creative process-frustration, anxiety, isolation-each contributor carries a measure of the joy Gwyneth Lewis felt at age seven, when she wrote her first poem: "This activity made me happier than anything I knew." It's a sentiment that both haunts and inspires: after 12 years without writing, medical doctor Jack Coulehan found in the "healing power of language" the key to lifting lifelong chronic anxiety. Medication is a trickier subject. Though it's an undisputable help, the difficulty in finding the right "cocktail" of pills and the array of side effects-for Chase Twitchell it turns off his "metaphor-making faculty" like a spigot-make it a painful challenge. Anyone affected by mental illness or intrigued by the question of its role in the arts should find this volume absorbing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

A fascinating collection of 16 essays, as insightful as they are compulsively readable.

(Publishers Weekly (starred review))

All agree that the sick brain often spells catastrophe for the creative mind.

(New York Times)

The book shows that good poets also write vigorous, engaging prose. Richard Berlin has done a marvelous job of showing us how ordinary poets are; the selected poets have shown us that mental illness shares with other experiences a capacity to reveal our humanity.

(Metapsychology)

At once instructive and poignant, Poets on Prozac constitutes an important addition to the literature on creativity and mental illness... An illuminating read both for mental health professionals who work with creative people and for artists who are contemplating treatment options.

(New England Journal of Medicine)

This book belongs on the shelves of all therapists who treat women and men who immerse themselves in creative writing or any other fine art. Dr. Berlin's pithy introduction provides a useful summary of the relationship between creativity and emotional disorder. The 16 essays and the poetic excerpts that bolster them share the virtues of being heartfelt, accessible, and brief. They can be read by highly literate women and men, even those in the midst of an emotional maelstrom.

(American Journal of Psychiatry)

Each essayist (and the book as a whole) certainly has an audience, most faithfully in poets.

(Roxanna Font Bellevue Literary Review)

This collection of brilliant essays does not resolve the relative contribution that medication (ranging from SSRIs to orthomolecular treatment) makes to the resolution of a creative person's fallow periods and blocks. Like the creative process itself, the picture that emerges is idiosyncratic and, perhaps, understood better as an appreciation than as analysis.

(Choice)

The book's claim to uniqueness lies chiefly in the character of the authors and the poetry with which they express their feelings.

(Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease)

In providing these poets with a voice in prose, Richard M. Berlin, himself both a healer and an artist, provides telling insights into both mental illness and the creative process.

(Harvey Fenigsohn Lamar Soutter Library Book Reviews)

Endlessly fascinating.

(Brooke Allen Hudson Review)

This collection of essays would be particularly useful to psychiatrists who have patients from the creative world of literature but I believe also from music, fine art or theatre.

(British Journal of Psychiatry)

Through the words of poets, this book celebrates the idea that health is not an end point―and that healing is a lifelong process.

(Dagan Coppock, MD Psychiatric Times)

An exceptional collection of poetically written and stirring accounts of overcoming mental suffering that provides valuable affirmation and understanding of the antithesis between mental illness and creative achievement. Although this is not a systematic scientific study, it vividly points to the ways that psychiatric treatment, which itself involves a mutual creative process between patient and therapist, may frequently improve poetic creativity.

(Albert Rothenberg, M.D., Harvard University, author of Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes and The Creative Process of Psychotherapy)

In brilliantly illuminating the interplay between creativity and mental illness, Richard Berlin's fascinating book shows us poets in the process of becoming healers―not only of themselves, but also of others, and even of society at large. Whether it is Denise Duhamel purposefully confronting bulimia in a spirited, long-lined poem, or Jack Coulehan more intuitively seeking structure through received poetic forms to calm anxiety, we experience firsthand 'dis-ease' as an incitement to the creative act, and, in turn, the tremendous power of imaginative language to interrogate and to assuage our suffering.

(Rafael Campo, M.A., M.D., D.Litt. (Hon), Harvard Medical School)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (March 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801888395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801888397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,470,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This review is written by Paul R. Fleischman, MD.
Poets on Prozac compiled and edited by my friend and colleague, Dr. Richard Berlin, will be of great interest to psychotherapists interested in creativity, to poets and artists, and to anyone interested in the centuries long discussion of the relationship between madness and poetry. No one is more competent than Dr. Berlin to have compiled this book, as Dr. Berlin is a well published psychiatrist and poet.
One of the strengths of this book is that it is a collection of first-person narratives written by professional writers. This not only gives it compelling force of confession, but it also helps the poets speak freely outside of the confines of scientific imposition, questionnaires or tests. The editor's excellence has been in creating a dialogical atmosphere in which his subjects and fellow investigators feel they can write with remarkable freedom. This is a book of science and courage.
Dr. Berlin provides a thought-provoking Introduction in which he discusses the relationship between psychiatric disorders and poetic creativity. Avoiding any rigid conclusions, he nevertheless points to the recurrent theme that emerges in the rest of the book. Poets who have psychiatric disorders generally benefit from psychiatric treatment. Psychiatric treatments are generally effective. Most of the poets who write chapters for this book became more creative after successful treatment. Treatment does not reduce poetic creativity and may well augment it. All of this does not answer the question about whether this group of poets would have been equally creative if they had had not psychiatric disorders in the first place.
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I found this book in a review from Rain Taxi, which gives it an impressive rating. (Thank-you, David Ray!) Poets on Prozac manages to entertain the reader while disseminating valuable insights about depression caused by imbalances in the brain's chemical makeup. Essays from 16 different poets describe their various depressive states and experiences with legal chemical cocktails. The reader should realize that prescriptive drug treatment for this malady is a relatively new science, hence the patient is somewhat of a guinea pig. It seems none of the poetic patients got the correct mixture of pills until a series of experiments led to a workable solution.

As one who suffers depressive episodes, I found a great deal of comfort in the confessions of the writers. In addition, the poetry in each piece provided a much-needed antidote to the heavy negative experiences of the authors. ("Pistachios" by J.D. Smith is worth the price of the book alone.) Mental illness is still misunderstood today, so it takes brave souls to speak honestly of their emotional battles. Poets on Prozac reveals the inner torments of the artist/poet, yet anyone who deals with depression can relate to the stories. I felt better after reading this book. It's good to know that I'm not the only one who feels hopeless, helpless, and hapless at times. If this talented bunch could cope with the devastating effects of depression, then there could be hope for me! One caveat: do not read this book for too long of a stretch because it can be depressing in itself. However, for those of us who fall into the dark pit and for those who love and live with us, this book sheds light on a frustrating and often misunderstood condition.
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The question posed in this book is whether treatment for mental illness helps or hinders creativity. Sixteen poets talk about their experiences and share poetry written before, during or after treatment. While interesting, I'm afraid it didn't really answer the question for me. Perhaps the best answer came in the final essay, by Chase Twichell, who says it's impossible for a person whose consciousness is affected by psychopharmacological drugs to know what the effects are. For Twichell, the drugs enable her to function, including writing, but she also admits that the sparkle of language and metaphor is dulled by the drugs. She can write, but it seems more difficult. Overall, the sad truth is these stories are all too much alike and didn't really grab me the way I had hoped they would. But they do raise intriguing questions.
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An easy to digest, succinct group of accounts of poets who experience major depression or other mental illnesses. Their clear voices from the depths of fog provide a brutally honest and encouraging read. Process I'm always fascinated by process.
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Format: Hardcover
My Son Charles could write when he was in a certain mood of his Bipolar. He refused to go to a doctor
as he said it made him feel funny. His self medication was Alochol (Jack Daniels which he carried in his hip pocket. I have published his book Called "Crystals." Whenhe got killed, Shot to death
at a party March 13, 2001 I tried to close the book but it took me 3 years to do so . It seems my Depression and anxiety did not match his Bipolar. However the boox publishers Xlibris has it if anyone is interested. It is called Crystals by Margie and Charles Watkins, Book ID 38593. I still
have major depression and have tried prozac and Xanax for my anxiety. However I have stopped my Prozac as I can't afford it. Stress over loosing the house and things that go with it does not help.
Thank you Margie
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